The Florida Derby (gr. I) and its five supporting graded stakes will be the highlights of the March 31 card at Gulfstream Park, but the first race of the day features an interesting "two other than" allowance race at one mile.
The contenders include Catesby Clay’s Rogue Romance, who makes his first start in over a year, and Our Sugar Bear Stable’s Gourmet Dinner, making his second start back from a layoff. The race also includes last year’s Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Watch Me Go and stakes winner Uptowncharlybrown .
Jockey Julien Leparoux rides Rogue Romance for trainer Ken McPeek in his first start since they teamed up to finish third as the favorite in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) in February 2011 at Fair Grounds. Rogue Romance has been on the sidelines since then.
“He broke a foot in training here after that race while in training for the Louisiana Derby,” said McPeek. “We had to give him a lot of time off. It was a big disappointment because we thought we had a Triple Crown horse. He’s doing great now and we’re excited to have him coming back.”
A chestnut son of Smarty Jones purchased for $65,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, Rogue Romance ran four times as a 2-year-old in 2010, finishing third behind Unclo Mo in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) after posting a victory in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland.
Gourmet Dinner finished fourth behind Travelin Man in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race run over a sloppy Gulfstream main track on Feb. 9, his first start since finishing second to Soldat in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) in February 2011 for trainer Steve Standridge.
A son of Trippi, Gourmet Dinner returned to competition with trainer Bruce Brown, who said the long layoff was due to “nagging shin injuries.
"He was given all the time he needed. He’s a big heavy horse. He breezed well but it’s easier to run him into fitness,” Brown said.
Gourmet Dinner was the star 2-year-old colt at Calder in 2010 when he won two of the three divisions of the Florida Stallion Stakes and then scored in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) that fall.
Also in the tough allowance race is E. Paul Robsham Stable’s homebred Simba's Story, who will start for leading trainer Todd Pletcher as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. A son of Elusive Quality, Simba’s Story won a one-mile allowance on Jan. 22 and came back with a fourth-place finish behind Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) runner-up Force Freeze in the seven-furlong Gulfstream Sprint Championship (gr. II) Feb. 18.